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Jefferson Award Winners 2015

News Story

Each year, the Jefferson Awards for Public Service looks for the “unsung heroes,” the selfless people who make the world a better place through volunteering and community service efforts.

Known as the “Nobel Prize for public service,” the Jefferson Awards were established to recognize and honor individuals whose community service efforts best exemplify dedication to enhancing the quality of life in their community. Pace University became a Champion of the Jefferson Awards for Public Service in 2008. Nominations were solicited from the University community and finalists were selected based on their personal, sustained commitment to service, and for the model of spirit and service they provide the university community.

This year’s Bronze Medal Award winners include:

Brando Brandini is an environmental studies student at the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences. He has taken courses on both the New York City and Westchester campuses. An Eagle Scout, and member of the Boy Scouts since age 12, Brandini has focused his service on encouraging others to become involved in their community through causes including the environment and disaster relief. In high school, he founded the Community Action Team, the school’s first community service organization. Since he came to Pace, Brandini has organized multiple community service projects including Pace Beautification Day and an E-Waste recycling event. He served as a student supervisor on Alternative Spring Break for two consecutive years, focusing on homelessness and hunger and disaster response. Brandini’s recent application to the Peace Corps exemplifies his life-long commitment to public service and volunteerism.

Kylah Bruno is a math and adolescent educations student at the School of Education on the Westchester Campus. Bruno organized multiple community service projects during her time here at Pace. Through her work with the Center for Community Action and Research she organized events at Green Chimney’s, Pleasantville Cottage School, and the Sharing Shelf, and supervised Paint-a-School Day and the Successful Learning Center’s bowling trip and Spring Fling dance. Additionally she volunteers at her local community center, Hudson Guild Teen services.

Diane Cypkin, PhD, is a professor of Media, Communications, and Visual Arts on the Westchester Campus and a trailblazer when it comes to service. Whether in years past entertaining the troops as part of the USO, or being one of the original service learning faculty members in Westchester, Cypkin has a long and storied commitment to community service. Her Oral Interpretation course has Pace students working with seniors to give voice to the issues they face through the transformation of informational interviews into one act plays performed for the seniors and the community. She is also committed to sharing entertainment by performing her own one woman shows (concert/lectures) at libraries, senior centers, and her local community.

Brian R. Evans, EdD, is an associate professor and department Chair in the School of Education on the New York City Campus. Evans has traveled to Uganda to teach mathematics problem solving and inquiry approaches with Educate Uganda. He has participated in Pace Makes a Difference Day and The Hattie Carthan Community Garden Cleanup, and has recruited students from the resident halls. Evans has also participated in disaster relief response after Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina.

Remy Gallo is a political science student in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences on the New York City Campus. Gallo, who is passionate about agricultural issues, worked to co-found the Pace University Vegetable Garden with alumnus Alireza Vaziri by receiving the Pace Opportunity Grant. He has, in addition to taking care of the garden with recruited volunteers, been organizing events to promote the garden which is now giving produce back into the community. Gallo is also a volunteer hockey coach for the New York Rangers Youth Street Hockey Program, in which he teaches the fundamentals of hockey and teamwork.

Jason Gonzalez is a first-year graduate student studying nonprofit management in the Dyson College Arts and Sciences on the New York City Campus. An alumnus of Pace’s undergraduate program, Gonzales has been committed to community work since he served on the Youth Leadership Council of Angels’ Place as a freshman in high school. Dedicated to serving the community, he co-founded the Rotaract Club of Pace University, a youth version of Rotary International, and from September 2013 through May 2014 he was responsible for coordinating and fulfilling over 600 service hours between him and his fellow Rotaract members.

Maria Lane is a biology student in the Dyson College Arts and Sciences on the Westchester Campus. Lane’s community service began with service projects through her high school's Interact Rotary Club and spread to involvement in her local parish's Senior Youth Group. Lane holds two leadership roles on campus: Vice President of Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority and VP of Finance for Colleges Against Cancer. She is an avid member of Pace Makes a Difference Day and supporter of all service and philanthropic efforts of organizations on campus.

Michelle D. Land is the director of the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies on the Westchester Campus, a position she has held since 2009. A tireless advocate for universities to mobilize their resources in service to the environment, Land was at the forefront of the launch of Pace Academy for the Environment in 2002, the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities in 2004, and was a legal intern for the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic in 2000, bringing opportunities for collaboration, engagement, and exploration of pressing sustainability issues from local to global. She has served both on Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano’s Global Warming Task Force and Climate Change Advisory Council, an academic adviser for Governor George Pataki’s Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, and was an Executive Committee board member of MetroPool, Inc. from 2007–2012. As a faculty member of Pace's Environmental Policy Clinic, Land leads students in research, legislative drafting and advocacy in areas of animal welfare and wildlife conservation.

Diana Mendez is both a sociology student within the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences and an international management student within the Lubin School of Business on the New York Campus. An activist for global justice and peace, Mendez was chosen as one of only 50 students across the country for the OXFAM Change Leaders program and founded the OXFAM chapter on the New York City campus in 2013. In the same year, she interned for a nonprofit organization called Latino U College Access that was organized by the Wilson Center for Social Entrepreneurship. In her early teen years, she has volunteered locally with the Glen Oaks Nursing Home, the Daughters of Isis Foundation. Throughout this year she has intern for the Success Upper West Academy, a day-care center in Puerto Lopez Ecuador, and now for the ALSAC St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Also, interning for the Office for Student Success, she has been able to bring together the Global Peace Foundation and Pace to give other students the opportunity to serve their community.

Kim Novak is a hotel management and hospitality and tourism management student at the Lubin School of Business on the New York Campus. A former girl scout, Novack has a long list of community service work, from working on playground construction for the Charter School of Excellence in Yonkers, to walk-a-thons for the March of Dimes, and for finding cures for Leukemia and muscular dystrophy. She fosters awareness of, and worked to raise supplies for, kids in El Salvador and has participated in Knitting for a Cause for the Harlem Hospital Cancer Unit with Pace’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Robert D. Rahni is the assistant director of Transfer Credit/Veterans Services for the Office of Student Assistance at Pace University as well as adjunct professor in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences. He is also a PhD candidate in Mental Health Counseling. A proud advocate of student veterans at Pace and beyond, Rahni created a veterans transition course entitled, From Combat to Classroom, specifically designed to help student veterans transition into higher education. He has organized the Young Veterans group to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity, organized and volunteered in collaboration with The New York Knicks and PlayStation a coat/ food drive and basketball clinic for underprivileged/homeless veterans entitled, Hoops for Troops, and has volunteered with the VA Hospital 23rd Street Manhattan.

Alexander Saitta is a biology student at the Dyson College Arts and Sciences on the Westchester Campus. Saitta is a leader on the campus as both a committed third-year resident assistant, and chair of RA Council. Currently, he has completed over 250 volunteer hours with Phelps Memorial Hospital and is still an active volunteer. Saitta also volunteers as a local firefighter and EMT. He is an active volunteer in campus-wide service events. He was a participant in Alternative Spring Break 2012 with the Center for Community Action and Research, and has organized multiple donation drives while at Pace, for the Westchester Food Bank and most recently, the Susan G. Komen foundation.

Additionally, the Jefferson Awards Board of Directors selected Jason Gonzalez to represent the Pace winners at the national Jefferson Awards for Public Service ceremony in Washington, DC, this summer.

For more information about the Jefferson Awards for Public Service visit http://jeffersonawards.org. Questions about nominating an individual (or applying for the award yourself) for the Jefferson Awards should be directed to Heather Novak, associate director on our Westchester Campus at hnovak@pace.edu, or Daniel Botting, associate director on our New York City Campus at dbotting@pace.edu.